Warming Up, or The Art of Recycling Manuscripts

In writing, nothing is ever wasted.  I'm forever saying this to clients, and, well, just about everybody I meet, and it is true.  Your words are never wasted because if they need to be cut from one project, they might become useful in another.  Doesn't matter if you have a bad experience, because, at least you can write about it.  (As a matter of fact, I've coaxed myself into many an event I don't want to attend with that thought–at least I can write about it.)

But I've recently rediscovered a way to literally and physically not waste words by recycling manuscripts.  And I don't mean throwing them in the recycling bin.  Here's the deal:  I've been organizing my office for the last, oh, six months, and at the rate I'm going I'll be working on it for the next six months. Part of why this is taking so long is that I'm going through everything--old stories, old notes, everything. 

In my most recent pile, I found a sheaf of slender pieces of paper, rubberbanded together.  Curious (of course I have to look at everything), I pulled the rubber band off and found that what I had were sentences.  Some were hand-written, and some were cut from a printed manuscript page. 

I realized immediately what I had found–story starters.  Oh, okay, call them prompts, though for some reason I don't like that word.  Clearly, at some point in the past, I had meticulously written down sentences that captured my attention, and spent time cutting apart manuscripts.

So I decided to experiment with these sentences.  Earlier this week, I used one as a starter for a writing session, though I kept it specifically focused on the new novel.  And it was great.  To me, that is one of the best use of prompts–write from them with a specific focus, hopefully whatever it is you are working on. 

Digging further through this file, I found three pages of an old manuscript.  I mean, this was old–it had been printed on a dot-matrix printed.  Remember those?  I used to love the ritual of tearing the edges off the paper.  Anyway, the writing on the page was as old as the printer and, how shall I say this so as not to hurt my own feelings–it needed some work.  It is not a project I'm going to return to as I have no interest in it. 

But then I thought–aha!  I have a use for this old manuscript!  I shall cut it up, sentence by sentence, and use it for a story starter.  I put all the thin pieces of paper containing the sentences into a box with my old hand-written ones,and draw one when I'm ready to write.  Here's several to get you started, and note that some of these may be copied from books.  But it doesn't matter, take them and make them into your own wonderful work:

  • Grandma sat in the armchair in the dim light, knitting.
  • They tell me I should never let anyone know what happened.
  • "It's not much further now," he called, beads of sweat popping out on his forehead.
  • I know it's dangerous to pick up hitch-hikers, but I stopped anyway.
  • Although there was nothing wrong with his leg, he walked with a cane anyway.

To me, writing to prompts story starters is an excellent way to warm up.  Musicians practice scales, athletes stretch, and we writers need to warm up, too if only to get the blood in our fingers going.  Writing freely  for 10 to 15 minutes can be an excellent way to get the brain moving in the correct direction as well.

Now the problem is that I have an excuse to keep all those old manuscripts.  Good thing I've thrown most of them out already.

How about you?  What's your favorite way to warm for writing?

, , , , ,

6 Responses to Warming Up, or The Art of Recycling Manuscripts

  1. Derek 02/27/2010 at 00:24 #

    I did start going through my files a few weeks ago, and stopped due to the sheer volume of paper. I came across a few sheets of paper on which I had written what I call my “profound phrases”. Back in my writing workshop days, whenever I thought of, read or heard a phrase or sentence that I considered to be profound, I would write it down and then try to create a story from it. Maybe I’ll have another shot at sorting out my old files. After all, I must have thought they would be valuable enough to keep!

  2. Charlotte Dixon 02/28/2010 at 08:03 #

    Derek, It is a fine balancing act. I’ve recycled so many files and papers. But it is nice to find a way to save some of them and reuse them.

  3. Dani H 02/28/2010 at 13:59 #

    I LOVE this post, Charlotte. And I agree with you ~ “story starters” is much more inspirational than “prompts.” Since my writing is of the short variety, I don’t have any real “warm up” ~ by the time I’d warm up, I’d be done. 😉 May I? ~

    They tell me I should never let anyone know what happened/ They tell me I should put it all behind me and never look back/ They tell me I should learn from my mistakes/ No one has told me how.

  4. Charlotte Dixon 03/01/2010 at 19:47 #

    Dani, I love that you are the master of the short form. That is the hardest thing of all to write! You could cut up manuscripts and just tape them back together into short sentences….but then it appears you don’t need any help. I love your poem!

  5. Dani H 03/08/2010 at 23:56 #

    Thank you, Charlotte, but I must disagree ~ it’s much easier to write 3 or 4 lines then to try to flesh out characters and plot and things that I’m sure I don’t even know about! You are a very kind and generous person.

  6. Charlotte Dixon 03/09/2010 at 18:31 #

    Dani, I think you sell yourself short!

Leave a Reply